V NEWS: Guess U.S.A: Americana Amplified
Nicolai Marciano tapped photographer Eli Russell Linnetz for the re-envisioning of the famed American brand
What happens when a seasoned visual creative and sought-after photographer become the driving force behind re-envisioning one of the world’s most distinctly American brands? Add in a touch of old Western flair, and you’re in for the ride of a lifetime. Since 1981, Guess has remained synonymous with American youth culture and unapologetic sex appeal. And as their California-based division Guess U.S.A dives into its archives to retrieve the ‘90s and 2000s artisanal designs for Fall 2022, who better than SoCal native Eli Russell Linnetz—the design visionary behind ERL—to initiate new visual life into the brand’s Western retro aesthetic?
The partnership between Guess’ Nicolai Marciano and Linnetz merges the best assets of each contributor. “Going through old catalogs with Eli was a big part of the overall inspiration,” says Marciano.“We wanted to align with someone on the imagery who shared a similar attitude of being sexy and provocative.”
Marciano and Linnetz bonded over Guess’ history as a pioneer of lifestyle advertising, looking to the sensual imagery and rolling hills that backdropped campaigns of decades past. “There is an inherent sexuality that Guess has always represented, [especially] with powerful women,” Linnetz explains. “I was really excited to add to the world that they pioneered in fashion.” Marciano continues the rustic fantasy in his designs of faded denim, distressed leather, and paint-cracked imagery, while Linnetz brings an intuitive eye to the equation, dreaming up images with the youthful energy of adolescence.
Read the full conversation between Nicolai Marciano and Eli Russell Linnetz, below!
Eli Russell Linnetz: The campaign utilizes Guess’ original ethos of “The American Way,” what does “The American Way” mean to you?
Nicolai Marciano: The American way is expressed in the elements of the USA—the nature, colors, attitude of the American free spirit, cars, motorcycles, leather, the desert, [and] the idea of the Wild West. And I’m curious, what does doing things the “American Way” mean in today’s context to you? How did you try conveying this message as the photographer?
ERL: I was inspired by your collection and really wanted to tell this story of a road trip, because the idea of a cross-country road trip is so American. And there is something very liberating and free which is reflected in the clothes you designed. All of my photography, as well as the photography I found in the Guess archive, has so much story and narrative to it. It was important for the people in the [campaign] to be real characters and real people.
NM: Definitely. And Guess has always championed photography as a medium for advertisement and branding—what’s the importance of photography and images to you? What do you love about the medium?
ERL: It was super cool in the Guess photo archives to see the first campaigns that actually had no clothing in it—it was just about telling a story and selling a world to people that had nothing to do with clothing, but [rather] this idea of escaping to another place. I connected that to my own work even though I shoot only in the studio. For me, it’s about how far you can take people out of a studio into another place. And in terms of the clothing, you described the collection’s pieces as something you would find in artisanal roadside boutiques in America. How does the collection tap into that aesthetic?
NM: The textures, washes, and color stories all share a certain level of treatment that’s very vintage. From the sun fading of the knits to the abrasion and tinting of the denim, everything has a very worn-in feel to it. The fabrics are all of very high quality and range in feel from dry on some of the men’s knits to very soft for the women’s. Everything from a process standpoint in this collection has been very artisanal [and] hand done, between Italy and Turkey. And I know that you’ve personally crafted several fashion companies’ images before—what’s special about Guess?
ERL: There is an inherent sexuality that Guess has always represented with powerful women. So I was really excited to add to that world that they pioneered. And I wanted to ask you, why did you ultimately choose me as the campaign’s photographer? Do you remember our initial conversations surrounding the campaign?
NM: As we were ideating and approaching a new chapter for GUESS USA, we wanted to align with someone on the imagery and visual language who not only has a good sensibility for the brand’s iconography history but also shared a similar [and] updated attitude of being sexy and provocative. You were really the perfect fit for this, also considering you are a SoCal guy growing up in Venice, and Guess is an LA brand. For the direction we went with the designs—working with the right creative and photographer on the imagery was super important. And the last question I wanted to ask you is: if you could sum up the energy of the images you created and produced, how would you describe them?
ERL: There is a sensuality to it—I wanted to find a sensuality that you might encounter on this road trip across America.